It wasn’t so long ago that Bournemouth had the reputation of a retirement home by the sea, and little else. But over the past decade the Dorset town has made strides into the 21st Century and established itself as a holiday haunt ready to rival California (yes really – just check out the tongue-in-cheek take-off of the Visit California ad on the city’s tourism website!.
Clubbers, surfers and a whole host of hen and stag parties have turned the town centre into a summer party zone. But that needn’t put off families wanting to spend time beside the seaside, or couples looking for a romantic getaway destination. Huge efforts have been made to maintain a family feel throughout the Bournemouth and Boscombe area, and leading the way is the central Norfolk Royale Hotel.
Located just two minutes’ walk from the town centre and the beautiful lower gardens, The Norfolk has undergone a revamp and is keen to establish itself as the premier destination for families holidaying in Bournemouth.
Having operated as a hotel since 1870, the 19th Century building has a homely feel, with well-worn carpet and luxurious sofas filling the reception area where visitors can languish at their leisure. There’s a pool to keep the kids happy, and a spa in case mum gets a chance to take an hour off from the family. The rooms are a good size and there are regular activities in the hotel gardens, from barbecues to theme nights, but the jewel in the Norfolk’s crown is the Echoes restaurant.
Echoes serves up top notch cuisine, all freshly cooked to order, and boasts an eclectic wine list. From the blue cheese tart starter and slow-cooked duck leg main, to the elderflower jelly and cider sorbet dessert, each dish we ordered exceeded expectations, and the breakfast the next day followed suit. No lukewarm sausages and dehydrated baked beans to be found here! But what made it most enjoyable was the excellent service from the attentive staff. Never overbearing, but constantly on call, it was nice to feel relaxed in a restaurant with a nine-month-old baby. Young couples nestled side by side with families and business guests. The atmosphere was relaxed and the staff seemed unflappable.
Being so close to the town centre makes the Norfolk Royale an ideal base from which to explore. The city’s Lower Garden’s are a pretty pathway joining the main shopping streets to the beach and the pier, and also home to the Bournemouth Balloon – a hot air balloon which rises up to give spectacular views over Jurassic Dorset coast and across the New Forest national park. But if the idea of going up in the air leaves you a bit dizzy, you can keep your feet firmly on the ground and take in the delights of the daily entertainment put on in a selection of marquees, and on a raised bandstand. And just five minutes up the hill is the enchanting TreeHouse family play centre where parents can grab a coffee and play Candy Crush courtesy of the free wifi, while little ones go mad clambering all over the soft play, building the next Notre Dame with giant Lego or chasing each other round on giant bugs.
For a four star hotel, the Norfolk Royale needs a bit more attention to detail when it comes to cleaning and airing the rooms, and the décor is slightly dated, but other than that we couldn’t fault our stay. Be it an anniversary treat or a family break, travelling Belles can count on the Norfolk Royale to give great value for money and a fun family stay.